Sunday, 19 July 2009

Musings on 100 marathons

Ever since I started running, back in 2005, I've had a focus on marathons and ultras. When I first entered the Marathon des Sables I expected it to be a hobby and just something to keep me fit. I even remember saying once that I thought I'd probably do around 10 marathons in my life and had no desire to do 100 and join the ranks of the 100 Marathon Club.

But after maybe six months of running I found that there's something extremely addictive about getting up at stupid o'clock on a weekend and running a very long way. Even more addictive to race against other people and test myself. And the most addictive element is the improvement and satisfaction from seeing progress month by month. It's also taken over much of my social life and I mainly spend free time (in Europe, at least) with runners, especially from my club, Serpentine.

So something which was intended to keep me fit and give me some new challenges has become so much more to me. I now can't imagine my life without running, although if something happened to stop me, I know I'd find the nearest equivalent, whether that's cycling/wheelchair marathons etc.

It didn't take long to work out that I would end up doing a lot of marathons and that I would, inevitably, join the 100 Club. It became even more obvious when I switched my focus to ultras early on, so marathons are necessary training runs.

This July I've had more cause than usual to consider my goals since I've had two significant events. Firstly, I completed my 99th marathon or ultra at the Tanners 30 miler at the start of the month. At the finish I felt a sense of relief that I'd be on target for my 100th at the Davos K78 ultra in the Swiss Alps at the end of the month. No dangers from DNFs screwing up my calendar or injuries making it impossible to fit in enough races.

My second event of the month to get my mind whirling was the knee injury I picked up after a 'football marathon', a 12-hour tournament for charity just two weeks before Davos. In hindsight it wasn't worth the risk, but I hardly ever play contact sports and wanted one last chance to playing football before moving to the US soon where a game of 'soccer' would be much harder to arrange. But I'd done it in two previous years and managed to avoid injury. This time a bad tackle caused a niggle and a kick near the end of the tournament started me limping.

The knee problem didn't phase me too much since I'm generally an optimistic type and all the running's made my body recover much quicker than it used to. I've had several races where I've finished and been certain I've injured something, rather than just pain from fatigue, but then been very pleasantly surprised to find that it cleared up within days and barely interrupted training.

This time I knew I had two weeks to heal and was pretty certain that the muscle behind the knee was damaged, rather than the ligaments or complicated mechanics within the knee. Muscles tend to heal quickly for me so it seemed like things should be fine. But the Davos race is a mountain race over unforgiving terrain. I managed to jog every day after the injury, but only very slowly and only on concrete or a treadmill.

It's now a week later and I managed to get back to racing yesterday, with a 10k followed by a 1k immediately afterwards. Not my best performances but the knee was solid and barely hurts even if I bend it oddly to test it. It needs to be perfect within another six days and I have a 1 mile and 3k race before then to confirm how it feels.

I'm confident it'll be ok, so that takes me back to my original thoughts about what completing 100 marathons means to me. Quite simply it means a lot and it means very little. The importance is because it's a good landmark to remind me of all the great experiences I've had over the past four years and the amazing places and people I've met. I didn't expect to see as much of the world as I have due to running, but I've immensely enjoyed the deserts, mountains, varied cities and trails. What better way to sight-see than to get entire cities covered in a day and with roads closed? Or spectacular (I'm finding I'm using that word a lot, especially to describe Davos to people) mountain views which can only be reached through long hikes or running trails? There are many places I wouldn't have gone to if there hadn't been a race as an excuse - I've even seen much more of the UK than in my pre-running days, covering many scenic corners and hidden gems.

The reason the mark of 100 marathons also means very little is that it is a means to and end, not an end in itself. I'm not hanging up my trainers after Davos, so it's just the start of a long running career. At 28 I'd hope I've got another 50 years of running in me (good genes from longevity in my grand-parents helps) so I know there's so much more to look forward to. My list of races I must do gets longer, rather than shorter, as I keep finding more events which catch my imagination.

Running inspires me and I hope I can take it to as high a level as possible, both in terms of pushing myself further and being able to enter/complete some of the hardest races out there. I'm genuinely excited by the thought of so many events out there and even impatient to do them all, even though there's no rush and they'll eat up a lot of cash over the years.

So here's my main must do list of races I know I HAVE to do, in no particular order. There are plenty of others and if I was restricted to just these I would struggle to get by and would get bored in my training. Happy to have any further suggestions for similar races as there's always a chance I haven't heard of something, even with all the Googling and picking of other ultra runners' brains.

Boston marathon, USA (every year - must do)
Comrades marathon, South Africa - 55 miles (ditto, but less local from the States)
Two Oceans marathon, South Africa - 35 miles (2010)
Western States 100, USA - 100 miles (every year I can get in)
Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc - 103 miles (2010 probably)
Marathon des Sables - multi-stage, 153 miles (maybe if I can justify the cost again)
PCT 50, USA - 50 miles (2010 then whenever I can)
Atacama Crossing, Chile - multi-stage, 150 miles (eventually)
Gobi Challenge, China - multi-stage, 150 miles (eventually)
Badwater, USA - 135 miles (2011)
Leadville 100, USA - 100 miles (eventually)
Hardrock 100, USA - 100 miles (eventually)
Great Wall of China marathon, China (eventually)
Inca Trail marathon, Peru (eventually)
Hood to Coast relay, USA (soon)
Lake Tahoe triple marathon, USA - 3x marathon (every year)
Goretex Trans Rockies, USA - multi-stage, 100 miles (eventually)
Other mountain marathons/ultras in the US
Plenty of other road marathons


  1. Not on my current to do list as it doesn't look fun. Plus I'd need to get really good at navigating and 100s first. Almost zero chance of finishing it unless you're at the standard of the winners of the hard 100s. So if I win WS100, I'll give it a go - you can remind me of this at the appropriate time.